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Research Networks and Intellectual Property: A Model for Supporting Developing Country Researchers in Creating, Owning and Exploiting Health Research Results

Annual Call for Projects 2004


Intellectual Property


The research project "Research Networks and Intellectual Property", approved by the Geneva International Academic Network (GIAN) in 2004, brings together a multidisciplinary team of scholars and practitioners around the question of patents in the realm of health research. The objective of the project is to analyse current practices in developing countries and take concrete steps to help researchers from those countries improve their research capacity and benefit more directly from the results.

Many people in developing countries today suffer from malaria, tuberculosis, sleeping sickness, Ebola and other diseases. Health professionals worldwide conduct research in an effort to find treatments and vaccines. Yet these therapies are often too expensive for poor people and difficult to distribute. Interdisciplinary approaches to this urgent problem are needed and creative solutions must be tested and evaluated. Health, management, marketing, economics, law and policy must all come together if realistic models can be found.

Research institutions in developing countries are working on tropical and other diseases, using both conventional approaches and traditional medicine. Many of these institutions have excellent and highly motivated researchers, but lack infrastructure and financing. This applied research project addresses research institutions with various needs and infrastructure, however a common theme for most developing country researchers is that it is difficult for them to own and exploit their research by using the intellectual property (IP) system because of lack of resources, infrastructure, training, and professional (legal and marketing) services.

The consequence is that developing country researchers may not own the results of their own research and therefore cannot commercially exploit it. There is often limited economic return on research and development (R&D;) investment by the developing countries and social benefit in terms of needed therapies from those activities is constrained. These challenges discourage developing countries from investing in research to solve pressing health problems.

This negative cycle may be called "The Research Ownership/Exploitation Challenge" (ROE Challenge). It is caused by interrelated factors:

• R&D; institutions in developing countries frequently lack the awareness and resources to protect, own and exploit research results as IP. Also, there is a critical scarcity of professionals who can draft patent applications, negotiate licenses, and provide IP-based marketing services;

• R&D; institutions often lack institutional IP-related policies and procedures relating to public-private partnerships, sponsored research, invention disclosure and economic incentives for researchers;

• Under-investment in R&D; can put at risk the current levels of health research output, which makes it difficult to attract and retain the best research talent. As in a spiral, the lack of economic and social returns from the work developed by R&D; may lead to greater reductions in financial support to those institutions;

• Lack of IP ownership of research results makes it especially difficult for developing country research facilities to negotiate technology transfer agreements because these facilities do not have tradeable assets to exchange and therefore are in a weak negotiating position.

The thesis of this applied research is that R&D; Networks with IP Hubs can help solve the ROE Challenge.

R&D; Networks are collaborative arrangements in which research institutions agree to common policies and to share common services. Networks may help leverage costs and resources by using economies of scale and also may accelerate research.

The IP Hub provides the common services to the R&D; Network and thereby serves a vital function in supporting and strengthening research in developing countries. The common services may include: i) legal protection of research results; ii) managing and licensing IP owned by the research institutions; iii) encouraging public-private partnerships; iv) marketing the R&D; Network and its IP assets; v) looking for and negotiating funding; and vi) encouraging the development of local manufacturing. In the case of health R&D; Networks, they may play an important role in facilitating local production and distribution of medicines based on both conventional approaches and traditional medicine.

This applied research project will focus on two selected developing country sites, the sub-region of Central Africa (Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Republic of Congo) and Colombia. Academic, governmental and non-governmental partners from Switzerland, Central Africa and Colombia will participate in the project through their experts, professors and researchers/students in the form of interdisciplinary teams for the research, test and evaluation that will be undertaken regarding the model proposed by the project.

The project will have four main phases: 1) audit to study the current situation; 2) development and test of training curricula in three key practical areas; 3) test of R&D; Networks and IP Hubs; and 4) evaluation study on the model and sustainability strategy.

The grant provided by the GIAN for this project totals SFr 350,143

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Project Team

Ms Lalao Rakotomalala , Coordinator, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) .

Ms Sylvia De Haan , Principal Member, Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED) .

Prof. Georges Haour , Principal Member, International Institute for Management Development (IMD) .

Ms Maria Soledad Iglesias-Vega , Principal Member, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) .

Prof. José Carlos Jarillo , Principal Member, High Commercial Studies , University of Geneva (Unige) .

Prof. Thomas Straub , Principal Member, High Commercial Studies , University of Geneva (Unige) .

Mr Kaspar Wyss , Principal Member, Swiss Tropical Institute (STI) .

Related Links

> OAPI site , Compte rendu des sessions de formation sur: "Gestion et la commercialisation de la recherche en santé et la propriété intel.

> BFH Bern - Project description , Berner Fachhochschule - Wirtschaft und Verwaltung - Projekte - Thomas Straub.

> Project Brochure

Related Conferences

Intellectual Property and Health Research in Developing Countries
This text exists in French only.
Le Club suisse de la Presse – Geneva Press Club, en collaboration avec l’...

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"Research Networks and Intellectual Property": Presentation of the project results – WIPO, Geneva, 25 September 2007, 1:30 pm
This text exists in French only.
Le projet "Réseaux de recherche et propriété intellectuelle", coordonné par...

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